Cranky Concierge Thrives on Air Travel Problems

by Maria Lenhart

While many leisure agents would just as soon not handle the air portion of their clients’ travel arrangements, Brett Snyder of Cranky Concierge has built an entire business doing just that. 

Flight arrangements, flight monitoring and even helping clients manage their frequent flyer awards are all among the central services offered by the Long Beach, Calif.-based agency. Snyder, a former airline employee and author of a popular blog called Cranky Flyer, founded the agency in 2009. 

“I was getting a lot of advice questions from people reading my blog, so I began to think of how I could make a living from this,” he said. “I realized that I could charge for personal assistance.”

Flight monitoring
Named by Condé  Nast Traveler as a top travel specialist for three years in a row, Snyder, who calls himself Chief Airline Dork, heads a team of three employees and four part-time independent contractors, most of whom are also former airline employees.  

While Cranky Concierge handles air, hotel and car bookings for clients, its top-selling service is flight monitoring for passengers who have already booked a flight.

Here’s how it works. The travelers gives his or her flight information to the agency, which then assigns the client a flight concierge to track possible delays. The concierge emails the client regarding weather and flight delays, offering advice alternate flight options as needed.

What it costs
The cost for flight monitoring, for up to four people on a flight, is $15 one-way for domestic flights and $30 one-way for international flights.

A higher level of service called Urgent Assistance includes an array of around-the-clock services, such as rebooking flights and hotels when a flight is delayed or cancelled. The service costs $150 one-way for up to four people on a flight.

Repeat customers are assigned to the same concierge whenever possible, Snyder said.

A ready market
Snyder has found a ready market for his services, both among frequent and occasional flyers. “When I started the business, I had assumed that elite flyers wouldn’t need as much help, but the reality is that they do,” he said.

In building its client base, Cranky Concierge relies on referrals from existing clients as well as travelers who discover the agency through the Cranky Flyer blog or on Google.

Cranky Concierge agency also has a division serving small businesses with 30 employees or less. (See sidebar.) The business travel division is the agency’s fastest-growing segment and now accounts for slightly over 50% of its business activity.

 “We have been very fortunate to have grown the business organically from the start,” Snyder said. “We don't do any advertising, primarily because we don't want to grow too quickly.  

“Having a high-touch business like ours requires growing slowly to avoid messing up the service delivery.”  

Frequent flyer help
Cranky Concierge also provides assistance for clients who want to get the optimum usage out of their mileage points.

Services include finding the most direct routings using the fewest miles, reviewing all possible airline partner options, assistance with using multiple airline mileage programs, and investigating upgrade opportunities and options for combining money with miles.

Working with other agents
Cranky Concierge frequently works with travel agents who would rather not handle their client’s flight needs but want to give them access to such assistance, Snyder said.

“I have travel agents and tour operators coming to me who say, ‘I hate air. Can you help?’

“We work with them in a variety of ways. Sometimes they simply refer the client to us for flight monitoring and the client pays us directly. Some agencies will pay us for the cost; how they bill the client is up to them.”

When it comes to client referrals, Cranky Concierge’s relationship with other agencies is often a two-way street.

“When a client comes to us and wants something out of our realm, say a high-end trip to Italy or other tailored vacation, we’ll refer them to an agency we’re connected with,” Snyder said.

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